October 13, 2016

Generosity Starts with Gratitude

Giving USA 2016 reported a new high in giving to religious institutions at $119 billion, year over year.  Good news, yes, but giving grew by only 2.7%, making giving to religion one of the slowest growth sectors.

In fact, as total donations to nonprofits have risen steadily, church donations have struggled to keep pace with inflation. As the total philanthropic pie grew to over $373 billion, the portion going to churches declined once again. In 1981-1985 religious institutions received more than 58% of all donations to charities. Last year, only 32% of charitable dollars went to religious institutions.

What’s behind these declines?  

  • Worship attendance patterns have changed.  Once a month is now considered “regular attendance.” Less time in church means fewer opportunities to give. 
  • Fewer people carry cash or a checkbook. When they do make it to church, they can sing, read the Word, and take notes on the sermon.  But they have no way to give when the offering plate passes.
  • There are more nonprofits vying for the philanthropic dollar.  Your parishioners or ministry supporters receive more requests for their financial support than ever before.  Any many of these organizations are very effective at communicating their impact with an emotional appeal and measurable results.
  • Making the case for discipleship. It’s easy to say, “You should tithe to the church,” but do your members feel called to give? A cheerful giver wants to spread God’s word. Expressing appreciation and showing the impact of gifts, instead of a sense of obligation, encourages the cheerful giving that Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 9:7.

While many of the reasons behind stagnant giving are beyond your control, there are some simple steps your congregation or ministry can take to counter these trends.

  1. Offer ways to donate electronically including Electronic Fund Transfers (EFT) and debit or credit cards. Recurring EFTs make it possible for members to give intentionally and regularly even if they don’t attend regularly. Include a QR Code in your bulletin or in printed worship materials so that members and visitors can scan and donate on their phone.
  2. Include a thank you in your quarterly contribution statements that ties members’ offerings to the ministry accomplished. Use a variety of pictures and minimal text, or tell a story of a life changed.
  3. Celebrate corporately with impact videos at the end of worship services, on social media, and in e-newsletters. Be sure to close the video with “Thank you!”
  4. Take a few moments before the offering plates are circulated or at the beginning of worship to share a brief story of how gifts fund ministry. It could be a story from VBS, youth mission trip, community service days, or anything that offers a concrete example of how their gift is spreading the gospel.
  5. Send a hand written thank you card to people when they make their first gift to your church.  Regardless of the size of the gift, the decision to give financially is a spiritual decision to be celebrated.

Using these strategies, local ministries and congregations can turn giving trends around and see a more significant growth in regular offerings.

Source: Giving USA Foundation, Giving USA 2016

Posted by Nikki Rach, Senior Consultant on Thursday, October 13, 2016